How to provide consistently good support for an inconsistent customer base

For online businesses with significant traffic managing the expectations and experience levels of a large visitor base is a daily challenge. Good user experience design, for those that can afford it, will go a long way to optimizing experiences but usually around the most valuable or the most common visitors to an online property. However for a site can requires complex interactions for some users, or one that brings suppliers together with buyers there are a plethora of differing experiences that need to be accommodated.

Creating, managing and updating multiple web journeys for each of these is extremely difficult to manage and expensive. The result? Significant pressure on the more resource-intensive chat and phone support as users fail to find what they are looking for or are unable to complete the process as designed. Is there a simpler solution to this common CX issue?

Pointing users in the right direction

One website that had this issue is Gumtree, the UK's number 1 classifieds listing site that has over 8 million visits per month. Given the nature of the business it has huge variance in the experience levels of its user base. It ranges from pros who list items for sale every day who need no help, to first timers adding a listing for their now redundant fridge. Gumtree built as simple a process as they could for users to list and to buy, but still they received 100’s of requests per week that were similar, were answered in the FAQ and for which they had canned answers that they had to provide over and over again.

How Gumtree tackles its customer service issue

To reduce this burden, but also to help the users more quickly educate themselves on what they should do they decided on the route of interactive guides. These guides simply pointed the user through the Gumtree site in a step-by-step process. Cleverly they could be instigated by the support agent through sending the user a link, or by the users themselves. Remarkably over 30% of Gumtree’s customers’ support requests are handled this way, making for a very happy Customer Support Team.

Next-generation interactive guides

Gumtree selected a product called Nickelled to build their interactive guides. Buying a third party product is a new departure in how these types of experiences are implemented and it is worth reflecting on why they went this route. Previously these types of ‘pointer’ experiences had been part of the web design or product development process. This meant they were not created by the support team, were slow to adapt to changes in the site, and were absent of any analytics or reporting to tell the company whether they were of help to users. The result was that they rarely made it past any updates and into a phase 2. The next-generation interactive guide products are designed to be created by the support agents, take seconds to adapt and give comprehensive reporting.

Checklist for when an interactive guide might be right for you

For the support team:

  • Constantly handling same or similar requests through chat or phone
  • Significant frustration in getting change requests made on the website
  • Lots of calls and chats guiding a user through the website
  • Consistent edge case of users with similar knotty issues (e.g. a language or age group)

For the customer experience team:

  • Mysterious drop-off issues on the site that are hard to solve
  • Continuous redesign tweaking of UX experience to suit more and more use cases
  • Difficulty in reconciling simplicity design goal with detailed information requirements
  • Significant complaints relating to navigation/discovery/usability of sections of the online and mobile experiences

We have written elsewhere on when and why it would be a good idea to look at interactive guides for a business.

Interactive guides are by no means a panacea for all ills in customer experience. But they are finding their place as a relatively low cost and low friction contributor alongside phone and chat and as a part of the user design and experience disciplines.

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